MA in Social Research

Course overview

Our MA in Social Research has been designed to develop highly skilled researchers in the social sciences to world class standards as defined by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC). You will be become well versed in the theoretical concepts in the social research environment and develop highly sought after practical qualitative and quantitative research skills through our hands on teaching experience.

You will use the core research training and apply it to the subject of your choice from the Social Sciences and work with that department to complete an independent research project or dissertation. Departments include:

  • School of Architecture
  • School of East Asian Studies
  • Department of Economics
  • School of Education
  • Department of Geography
  • Information School
  • Department of Journalism Studies
  • Department of Landscape
  •  School of Law
  •  Management School
  •  Department of Politics
  •  Department of Sociological Studies
  •  Department of Urban Studies & Planning
  •  Department of Psychology

This Masters degree will enable you to transistion into a higher level of research either directly into PhD research or career that demands world class research skills.

Course structure & module information

During the year long course you will be a student at The Sheffield Methods Institute, within the Faculty of Social Sciences, which is home to leading experts in qualitative and quantitative research methods and a purpose built data lab for training in cutting edge data analysis software.

You will take the following core modules at the SMI:

    Core modules

    Principles of Research Design

    This module will introduce student to key principles in relation to the design and practice of research. The module covers three broad areas of content that underpin the pursuit of research: a range of philosophical frameworks within which research is conducted; a variety of strategies and approaches to designing, conducting and appraising research; and reflections on the place of the researcher and their skills in the research process. Students will explore how these ideas and principles shape the design and conduct of research across disciplines, as well the implications for the knowledge produced.

    Introduction to Qualitative Research

    Introduction to Qualitative Research introduces students to a variety of qualitative research techniques and aims to familiarise students with a full range of research methods and analyses in common use in social science. The module covers interviewing, observation, document work, the use of visual data and mixed methods. As well as learning how to use these tools, techniques and processes, students on this module will learn how to apply and evaluate them.

    Introduction to Quantitative Research

    The module will introduce uses of quantitative research in the social science and basic concepts such as sampling, distributions, hypothesis testing and descriptive statistics. It then goes on to bivariate statistics such as correlation and cross-tabulation along with relevant statistical tests. Students will become familiar with the key role that secondary data analysis now plays in the social sciences and will gain proficiency in using the statistical software package SPSS as well as learning the fundamentals of primary quantitative data collection.

    Professional Skills for Researchers

    Professional Skills for Researches enables students to develop and reflectively assess the professional skills that are expected of effective researchers in the social sciences. Through Faculty and University training sessions they will develop their own skill sets as indicated through the Training Needs Analysis (TNA) process, and will evaluate development within a self-reflective portfolio.

    Research Ethics and Integrity The purpose of this module is to encourage students to be sensitive to issues of research integrity and ethics, starting from research design, through to publication and beyond. It is designed to help students understand research activity as more than the generation of research questions, collection and analysis of data, and dissemination of results. Research involves students in a complex set of relationships with a range of stakeholders, and will require students to make decisions that involve ethical questions and considerations of values. Good research is inherently ethical, and the best research has integrity and ethics considerations built in from the beginning. Ethics and integrity is not about jumping through regulatory hoops (although this may be required too). Instead, it focuses on reflecting critically about research throughout the process. The best researchers are not afraid to identify and solve problems with their research.

You will apply the skills and training from the core modules to an independent research project module taught within the department of your choice. This will either be in the form of a dissertation or high level academic project by proposal at the discretion of your department tutor.

Independent Research Project

Independent Research Project by Proposal

Students will undertake an in-depth study on a topic of their own choice guided by one-to-one academic supervision based in their disciplinary area. Aiming to enable students to develop and demonstrate skills in the definition and planning of a substantial piece of enquiry that will further and deepen knowledge in their chosen specialist field. This module will demonstrate the ability to identify research questions through literature-based analysis, and show how these questions could be investigated through detailed research design.

Independent Research Project by Dissertation

Students will undertake an in-depth study on a topic of their own choice guided by one-to-one academic supervision based in their disciplinary area. Aiming to enable students to develop and demonstrate skills in the planning, definition and management of a substantial piece of enquiry that will further and deepen knowledge in their chosen specialist field. This module will demonstrate skills in the design and conduct of research: this may involve theoretical or policy literature-based analysis, and may additionally involve empirical exploration, either through primary or secondary research, of a relevant topic.

You will also have the choice of taking one of the following optional modules taught by the SMI:

    Optional Modules

    Advanced Qualitative Methods

    This unit introduces students to a variety of advanced qualitative research techniques common to the social sciences, but which can be used in wider cross-faculty research contexts. The unit provides students with a philosophical introduction to advanced qualitative methodology, and will introduce a selection of advanced and pioneering research techniques, which will include techniques such as: creative approaches to qualitative interviewing, the use of sensory and mobile methods, participatory research techniques (including the use of diaries and drawings), qualitative longitudinal research, memory work, and life history approaches.
    Students will also be introduced to the potential of re-using qualitative data and to advanced analytical techniques (including Computer Assisted Qualitative Data Analysis and will learn about innovative approaches to writing and communicating qualitative research. Finally, the module will also introduce students to a range of ethical issues arising from creative and innovative approaches to qualitative research.

    Advanced Quantitative Methods for Social Research

    The course will introduce more advanced uses of multivariate statistics in the social sciences with a focus on comparative methods, covering several methods that are often employed in comparative sociology and social policy. These will include: Cluster analysis; Factor analysis; Multi-dimensional scaling; Regression (including Ordinary Least Squares and Logistic Regression); Event history analysis; and an introduction to comparative and longitudinal techniques. Students will undertake a small secondary data analysis project of their own devising for assessment.

    Depending on the route you choose to take you will study a variety of modules in another department. 

    Please note these are subject to change and dependant on timetabling. 

    Available routes


    Students will take 45 credits from the following in the School of Architecture:

    ARC6979 Urban Design Tools and Methods
    ARC6983 Participation in Architecture and Urban Design
    ARC6984 History and Theory of Urban Design
    ARC6985 Reflections on Architectural Design
    ARC6853 Theory and Research in Design
    ARC6741 Critical Spacial Theory
    ARC6710 Advanced Study and Research Methods 1
    ARC6720 Advanced Study and Research Methods 2
    ARC6730 Advanced Study and Research Methods 3

    East Asian Studies

    With the School of East Asian Studies students will take:

    EAS6868 East Asian Research Methods

    And 30 other credits from other modules including:

    EAS6208 Media, Culture and Society in East Asia
    EAS6211 Investing in East Asia
    EAS6207 Politics and Governance in Contemporary China
    EAS6680 Chinese Language I
    EAS6272 Chinese Language II
    EAS6353 Media, State and Society in China
    EAS6347 Contemporary Chinese Business and Management
    EAS6146 Intermediate Japanese II

    Other modules are available please contact us if you would like more details.


    Student will take 45 credits from the following in the Department of Economics:

    ECN6510 Microeconomics Analysis
    ECN6520 Macroeconomics Analysis
    ECN6540 Econometric Methods
    ECN601 Applied Microeconometrics
    ECN602 Applied Macroeconometrics
    ECN6570 Modern Theory of Banking and Finance
    ECN6580 Health Economics
    ECN6002 Development Finance
    ECN603 Asset Pricing
    ECN6620 International Money and Finance
    ECN6650 Industrial Organisation
    ECN6660 Monetary Economics
    ECN605 International Trade
    ECN606 Public Economics


    In the School of Education students will take:

    EDU6146 Critical Issues in Education and Educational Research

    And 30 credits from the following:

    EDU6084 Globalisation and Education
    EDU6127 Quantitative Methodologies in Educational Research
    EDU6349 Developmental Psychology
    EDU6089 Early Childhood 1: Development, Learning and Curriculum
    EDU6345 Language Acquisition, Learning and Pedagogy
    EDU6085 Globalising Curriculum, Assessment and Pedagogy
    EDU6357 Qualitative Methodologies in Educational Research
    EDU6350 Psychology and Learning Communities
    EDU6099 Early Childhood 2: Contemporary Issues in ECE
    EDU6346 Language, Society and Education
    EDU6358 The Practice of Research30


    Students will take one of the following in the Department of Geography:

    GEO6302 Theory and Debates in Food Security and Food Justice
    GEO6801 Ideas and Practice in International Developement
    GEO6806 Key Issues in Environment and Development

    Students will also take two of the following:
    GEO6016 Data, Visualisation and GIS
    GEO6024 Introduction to Quantitative Analysis
    GEO6302 Theory and Debates in Food Security and Food Justice
    GEO6305 Research Design and Methods in Food Security and Food Justice
    GEO6617 Soil and Global Sustainability
    GEO6801 Ideas and Practice in International Develpment
    GEO6802 Research Design and Methods in International Development
    GEO6806 Key Issues in Environment and Development
    GEO6807 Understanding Environment Changes
    GEO6809 Living with Climate Change in the Global South

    Information Studies

    Student will study 3 modules with the Information School covering a variety of topics including:

    INF6001 Information Systems Project Management
    INF6002 Information and Knowledge Management
    INF6025 Information Governance and Ethics
    INF6840 Archives and Records Management
    INF6024 Researching Social Media
    INF6028 Data Mining and Visualisation
    INF6320 Information Systems in Organisations
    INF6032 Big Data Analysis

    For a list of all the modules available to students contact us.

    Journalism Studies

    Students will take 3 modules with the Department of Journalism Studies from the following:

    JNL6073 Online Journalism Studies
    JNL6036 Journalism in Britain
    JNL6027 Journalism, Globalisation and Development
    JNL6071 Journalism and Democracy


    Students will take 3 modules with the School of Law covering a variety of topics including:

    LAW6129 Policing and Society
    LAW6903 Restorative Justice
    LAW6923 Gender and Violence
    LAW60047 Principles of International Law
    LAW60054 International Humanitarian Law
    LAW6099 EU External Relations Law
    LAW683 Judicial Protection in European Union

    For a list of all the modules available to study contact us.


    Students will take 45 credits with the Department of Landscape covering a variety of topics including:

    LSC6004 Landscape Design and Art Practice
    LSC6023 Research Methods in Landscape
    LSC6113 Landscape Planning
    LSC6115 Introduction to Landscape Research
    LSC6116 Landscape Research Topics and Dissertation
    LSC6150 Appreciation of Landscape

    For a list of all the modules available to students contact us.


    Students will take 3 modules with the Management School covering a variety of topics including:

    MGT6067 Corporate  Governance
    MGT6042 Negotiation and Intercultural Communication
    MGT6045 Marketing
    MGT6096 Quantitative Methods for Finance and Accounting
    MGT6146 Quantitative Skills for Finance and Accounting
    MGT6154 Emerging Market Finance
    MGT6165 Research Methods for Occupational Psychology
    MGT6182 International Consumer Behaviour
    MGT6250 Marketing Research
    MGT6253 Corporate Entrepreneurship
    MGT660 Employee and Organisational Developement
    MGT682 Research Methods

    For a list of all the modules available to students contact us.


    With the Department of Politics students will take:

    POL6004 Understanding Politics

    Student will study one other module choosing from a variety of topics including:

    POL6005 Contemporary Global Security
    POL6604 Global Health and Global Politics
    POL6602 Political Economy of Global Environmental Change
    POL6560 Politics and Governance of the European Union
    POL6003 The Politics of Global Migration
    POL6180 Human Rights

    For a list of all modules available to student contact us.


    Students will take 45 credits with the Department of Psychology choosing from the following:

    PSY6231 Professional Skills for Psychologists
    PSY6122 Current Issues in Psychological Research
    PSY6121 Research Methods

    Sociological Studies

    Students will study 3 of the following modules with the Department of Sociological Studies:

    SCS663 Visual Methods for Social Scientists
    SCS6067 Methods for International Social and Policy Analysis
    SCS6078 Researching Digital Society
    SCS6081 Digital Methods
    SCS643 International Childhoods - Rights, Policies and Practices
    SCS6047 Explorations of Contemporary Social Change
    SCS6069 International Social Change and Social Problems
    SCS6082 Social Media, Data and Society
    SCS6390 Science, Technology and Society

    Urban Studies and Planning Stream

    With Urban Studies and Planning students will study one of the following:

    TRP6403 Values in Planning
    TRP630 Theorising the City in the Global South
    TRP6410 Real Estate Economics
    TRP6423 Principles of Urban Design
    TRP6016 Social Theory for Research

    Students will take two of the following modules:
    TRP621 Advanced GIS Methods
    TRP6013 Cities of Diversity
    TRP6211 Issues in Housing
    TRP6017 Quantitative Research Methods
    TRP6280 Public Participation
    TRP615 Natural Resource Planning
    TRP617 Sustainable Development: A Critical Development
    TRP618 Transport Planning
    TRP624 International Real Estate Market Analysis
    TRP651 Managing Cities: The Seoul Case Study
    TRP654 Sustainable Development in Practice
    TRP655 Health and Wellbeing in the Built Environment
    TRP6014 Cities of the South: Planning for Informality
    TRP6019 Governance and Participation in the Global South
    TRP6280 Public Participation
    TRP6306 Planning Law
    TRP6350 Local and Regional Economic Policy
    TRP6360 Regional Policy and Governance
    TRP6408 Advanced Software Skills and Urban Design
    TRP6416 Investment Evaluation
    TRP6421 Law of Business Leases

There is the option to take the course as a part-time route over two years.


The fees for the course are £6,500 for home students and £16,000 for overseas students for 2017-18.

Up to date information on course fees for home and overseas students can be found here.

Entry requirements

We require a minimumm of an 2:1 honours degree from a UK University (or international equivalent). This will normally be in a relevant discipline to your intended chosen area of research. Other qualifications or suitable relevant experience will be considered on an individual basis.

International students are also required to hold a suitable English language qualification, such as IELTS with an average score of 7.0 with a minimum of 6.0 in each component.

How to apply

Please apply via the Postgraduate Application form.

There is more information about applying for postgraduate courses on the university postgraduate pages.

If you are interested in applying and have any questions please contact us

Course outcomes

Our MA in Social Research delivers the skills and training to allow you to progress to research within a Social Science PhD. It has been designed to meet the latest post-graduate training development guidelines of the UK's Economic and Social Research Council.

You could also take your world class research skills into a career in research where your practical expertise and theoretical knowledge will be in great demand.


How much time will be scheduled activity where I need to be on campus?

The MA Social Research is a combination of SMI modules and modules that you will choose from a subject, in your case Sociological Studies. Your modules will be
SMI607 Principles of Research Design
SMI606 Introduction to Quantitative Research
SMI605 Introduction to Qualitative Research
SMI608 Professional Skills for Researchers
FCS6100 Research Ethics and Integrity
SMI601 Advanced Quantitative Methods or SMI609 Advanced Qualitative Methods
Each of these modules have up to 20 hours of scheduled tutorials, lectures and seminars, with an expectation that you will also do at least 130 hours of independent study.

Your Independent Research project has 10 hours of scheduled tutorials, with an expectation that you will do at least 590 hours of independent learning.

You will then choose 2 or 3 modules (depending on the credit value of the modules) from Sociological Studies. I don't have the detail of these modules, but they will follow a similar pattern of up to 20 hours of scheduled time.

When will my teaching take place?

The timetabling of modules has not yet been done and so I can't say when your scheduled hours will take place I'm afraid, although it's likely that they will be spread throughout out the whole week. The classroom-based teaching will be a little heavier in the 12-week block of the Autumn semester than the Spring (this should be a relative plus for mature students with complex commitments/non-Sheffield based students).

In a part-time masters course, the teaching will take place during normal working hours (9am-5pm) over a period of around 2-3 days per week. As a part-time student you would be expected to take 90 credits per year of study, so this could be split with 45 credits in semester 1 and 45 credits in semester 2. Another 90 credits would need to be undertaken in the final year (year 2) of your studies.

How/where do I do the independent study?

Independent study is flexible and you will have electronic off-campus access to library resources etc. You wouldn't have scheduled classes during holidays, but you may want to do some independent learning then.

What facilities are available?

In the SMI we have a student room where you can relax, and/or work using your own laptop. We also have a datalab with high spec computers, which you can use when teaching is not taking place. You wouldn't have an allocated desk though. We're also very close to other main buildings, such as the new state of the art Diamond building which also has space for students to use.

How will I be assessed?

The SMI modules are assessed through course, project and portfolios. I don't know the detail of the modules based in Departments, so I'm not sure whether they would include exams.

Are there any texts books that I should be reading in advance?

SMI606 Introduction to Quantitative Research
Herschel Knapp. Introductory Statistics Using SPSS. Sage.
Andy Field. Discovering Statistics Using SPSS. Sage.
Martyn Denscombe. The Good Research Guide: For Small-Scale Social Research Projects. Open University Press.

SMI601 Advanced Quantitative Methods
Larry D. Schroeder, David L. Sjoquist, Paula E. Stephan. Understanding Regression Analysis: An Introductory Guide. Sage.
Fred Pampel. Logistic Regression: A Primer. Sage.

SMI605 Introduction to Qualitative Research
General recommended texts
Multiple copies of each of the below general texts are available in the Information Commons, as are further copies of earlier editions of the same texts. There is also a wide selection of further general methods texts. Specific reading for each week will be provided for each lecture as the module progresses.

Bryman, A. (2008) Social Research Methods (3rd edition) Oxford: Oxford University Press
Davies, C. A. (2007) Reflexive Ethnography: A Guide to Researching Selves and other (2nd edition) Series: The ASA Research Methods: Routledge
Davies, M. and Hughes, N. (2014) Doing a Successful Research Project. London: Palgrave
Denzin, N. K. and Lincoln, Y. S. (2008) Collecting and Interpreting Qualitative Materials 3rd Edition) Sage
Denzin, N. K. and Lincoln, Y. S. (2009) The Landscape of Qualitative Research (3rd Edition) London: Sage
Gabb, J. (2008) Researching Intimacy in Families. London: Palgrave Macmillan.
Ford N. (2012) The essential guide to using the Web for research, Los Angeles and London: SAGE.
Halfpenny P. and Procter R. (eds) (2015) Innovations in digital research methods, Los Angeles: SAGE.
Huberman, A. M. and Miles, M. B. (2002): The Qualitative Researcher’s Companion, London: Sage
Ford N. (2012) The essential guide to using the Web for research, Los Angeles and London: SAGE.
Marshall, C. and G. B. Rossman (2006) Designing Qualitative Research (4th edition) Sage
Mason, J. (2002) Qualitative Researching (2nd edition) Sage
May, T. (2001) Social Research: issues, methods and process (3rd edition) Buckingham: Open University Press
May, T. (ed.) (2002) Qualitative Research in Action London: Sage
Gilbert, N. (ed.) (2001) Researching Social Life (2nd edition) London: Sage
Silverman, D. (2006) Interpreting Qualitative Data: methods for analysing talk, text and interaction (3rd edition) London: Sage
Silverman, D. (2005) Doing Qualitative Research: a practical handbook (2nd edition) London: Sage
Silverman, D. (ed.) (2004) Qualitative Research: theory, method and practice (2nd edition) London: Sage
Strauss, A. and Corbin, J. (ed.) (2007) Basics of Qualitative Research (3rd edition), London: Sage

Useful web links:
• Social Research Update is an online journal series and covers lots of useful topics from the practicalities of doing research to ethical issues and analysis. It is published quarterly and available via

• The Morgan Centre for the Study of Everyday Life is a research centre based at The University of Manchester. The centre’s website contains a series of working papers, videos and practical toolkits covering key issues in social research such as transcribing your data, using video and participatory methods.

SMI607 Principles of Research Design
Alan Bryman, Social Research Methods, 5th edition, Oxford University Press, 2016
(Bryman will be useful across the entire MA)
Before starting the module, it would be a good idea if everyone read Chapters 3 and 4 of Bryman.

In addition,
Stephen Gorard, Research Design, Sage, 2013
John W Cresswell, Research Design, 4th edition, Sage, 2014

I’m worried because it’s new/ why should I need to take this course

While our course is new it has been designed specifically to meet the ESRC guidelines and is the only MA that the Faculty offers which would allow you to do an ESRC-funded PhD. If you'd be looking for a different funder, the choice is yours based on which modules you prefer.

You will probably have seen the descriptions of the core modules in the MA Social Research here -

Can I use work from the dissertation/research proposal module for my PhD?

The most obvious permissible overlap [between PhD and Independent Project] is when a student completes the independent project by proposal, and then uses elements of that proposal as the basis of lit review and/or methods chapters within the final PhD. In these cases, the material would be reworked and further developed within the PhD chapters, so no problems are likely to arise. This *shouldn't* be a case of direct cut-and-paste of a chapter from MRes to PhD, because in all cases the student will be reflecting on the finished research within the PhD, and that will materially alter content.

After passing the MA Social Research, what training has to be undertaken during the first year of a PhD?

The MA Social Research covers a range of core skills needed for doctoral research, and as a result graduates from this programme will only be registered for modules that they have not already completed as part of their MA when they progress to PhD study. Their default registration will therefore be the four portfolio-based modules which they will study during the whole period of their doctoral registration: Doctoral Training in [Department], Doctoral Training in [Pathway], Advanced Methods Training, and Professional Skills for Research Leadership. Continued engagement with all four of these modules is a condition of scholarship for all ESRC funded students.